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Nonprofit’s Trucks Rescue 41M Pounds of Food

March 2016, Business Fleet - Cover Story

by Amy Winter-Hercher - Also by this author

Forgotten Harvest's 26 truck drivers rescue food from 800 food donors and deliver to 280 food emergency agencies throughout metro Detroit. 
Forgotten Harvest's 26 truck drivers rescue food from 800 food donors and deliver to 280 food emergency agencies throughout metro Detroit.

Forgotten Harvest’s truck fleet is essential for rescuing fresh, perishable food and delivering it to local emergency food providers on a daily basis.

“The trucks are very critical to our business,” says John Owens, Forgotten Harvest’s director of communications. “We really are a trucking company with a heart.”

Forgotten Harvest operates with the help of many donors, including the GM Foundation. Recently, the GM Foundation gave a $50,000 grant to Forgotten Harvest — 50% of that donation will go toward maintaining its fleet trucks, according to Owens.

“Through our recent grant, we’re helping to ensure Forgotten Harvest can get food from grocery stores to those in need,” says Lori Wingerter, vice president of the GM Foundation.

After facing a difficult time and needing food assistance, Dr. Nancy Fishman vowed to help others in need. In 1990, she started Forgotten Harvest out of the back of her Jeep by rescuing food from local events and religious celebrations.

Today, Forgotten Harvest’s 33-vehicle fleet consists of pickup trucks, straight trucks, and semi-trucks — all of which have been donated by various brands including General Motors, Ram, Kenworth, and Freightliner.

The organization rescues food from more than 800 food donor sites across Detroit’s Tri-County region, according to the company. The drivers then deliver the rescued food to 280 emergency food agencies that serve metro Detroit residents.

“Last year, we rescued over 40.9 million pounds of food,” says Owens. “Forgotten Harvest rescues food that may not have been marketable due to appearance, grade size, or surplus inventory. The food is perfectly good to eat and might otherwise have gone to a landfill were it not rescued. America wastes over 70 billion pounds of food every year.”

Trucks With a Heart

On a daily basis, the refrigerated straight trucks stop at 10 to 15 donors. Donors include stores such as Kroger, Meijer, Costco, Whole Foods, and Wal-Mart, warehouses, distributors, farms, restaurants, and caterers. Donated food is fresh, perishable food such as fruit, vegetables, meat, and bread.

“Each donor requires us to come by a certain number of times per week,” says Mark Lamerson, Forgotten Harvest’s fleet manager. “Our routes vary by the day; it depends on the location and how it flows into other stops we make that day.”

After picking up food donations in the morning, drivers will typically drop off the fresh food to three different emergency food providers in the afternoon. To help keep the food fresh, each straight truck’s box is insulated and contains a refrigeration unit that’s mounted to the box, according to Lamerson. When transported, the food is typically stored on pallets in the back of the trucks.

On the road six days a week, the fleet averages 500,000 miles each year within Detroit’s Tri-County.

The semi-trucks are used to haul products back to Forgotten Harvest’s warehouse and transfer 25,000 to 40,000 pounds of food for the local mobile pantries, according to Owens. Pallets of food are dropped at one location set up like a mini grocery store.

In addition to delivering food, Forgotten Harvest also operates a 92-acre farm. Last year, the organization grew more than 900,000 pounds of produce, according to Owens.

Maintaining Vehicles

With its trucks on the road six days a week, Forgotten Harvest keeps to a regular preventive maintenance schedule.

“We estimate that we have a truck maintenance budget of $300,000 over the year,” says Owens.

Every four months, the vehicles undergo a Department of Transportation (DOT) safety inspection at a local Star Leasing location.

“Vehicle maintenance is one of our most essential program costs and is critical to our uninterrupted service delivery,” says Kirk Mayes, CEO of Forgotten Harvest.

Forgotten Harvest's semi-trucks help transport food for its mobile pantry program. It allows recipients to select food in a farmer's market setting.
Forgotten Harvest's semi-trucks help transport food for its mobile pantry program. It allows recipients to select food in a farmer's market setting.

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